#RedForEd Leaders Question Governor Doug Ducey's Pay-Raise Plan

Grassroots leaders of Arizona Educators United Noah Karvelis, left, and Dylan Wegela.
Grassroots leaders of Arizona Educators United Noah Karvelis, left, and Dylan Wegela. Joseph Flaherty
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has offered teachers a net 20 percent raise by 2020 — a concession to the grassroots #RedForEd movement. But now teachers have a choice.

Do they trust Ducey and the Republican-controlled Legislature? Or do they keep fighting to secure pay raises for all educators, not just teachers, and to bring back pre-recession school funding levels?

Those were the main questions #RedForEd leaders brought up when they went live on the group's Facebook page, Arizona Educators United, shortly after Ducey's announcement.

"To me right now, it feels like this was essentially an attempt to stop whatever actions we may have been taking, instead of a legitimate groundwork for future investment in education and to fulfill our demands," said #RedForEd leader and West Valley music teacher Noah Karvelis.

"He took a shot at one demand here, and he missed that," Karvelis said of Ducey's pay raise. "And we have four others that he hasn’t even touched upon yet."

On Thursday, Ducey said that he wants a 9 percent teacher pay increase in next year's budget, and 5 percent increases during the subsequent two years.

Ducey's plan pretty much fulfills the teachers' main demand of a 20 percent pay raise, albeit in a belated and vague way. But there are several other items on AEU's list of demands that Ducey didn't address.

They want competitive pay for education-support professionals, like bus drivers, janitors, and cafeteria workers. Teachers are also asking for restored school funding to match the cuts Arizona made after the 2008 recession — larger cuts than any other state, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities — and they want a freeze on tax cuts until per-pupil education spending reaches the national average.

Ducey was silent on these demands in his Thursday news conference.

Vanessa Jimenez, vice president of the Phoenix Union High School District's classified employees association, said that her heart sank when Ducey made no mention of education-support professionals in his pay-raise announcement.

“When I think of his proposal, it’s clearly an attempt to divide us, and we are not going to be divided," Jimenez said in the live video on AEU's Facebook page.

In the video conference, Jimenez was joined by Karvelis as well as #RedForEd leaders Dylan Wegela and Catherine Barrett, and Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas.

Thomas said that Ducey's proposal reminded him of when he would give assignments to his students, and a student would turn in an assignment clearly hoping to just get a grade that is good enough to pass.

"This doesn't meet what it is that #RedForEd stands for," Thomas said.

Ducey has so far declined to meet with Karvelis and Thomas, who asked for a sit-down meeting to hash out the AEU demands. Thomas called the plan a vague set of goals without enough details for how the Legislature will get there.

"Are we going to trust legislators with this plan that kind of came out of nowhere, that they say that they’re going to work on all weekend long?" Thomas said. "That's the real question."

Arizona House Democrats called Ducey's plan a step in the right direction, but said they have misgivings. "The devil is in the details," House Democratic Leader Rebecca Rios said in a statement.

“The governor did not fully explain how we will pay for this and what other government services will be impacted, so we need to see the details,” Rios said.

Ducey said that rising state revenues and a reduction in governor's office proposals in next year's budget will allow them to invest new dollars in education. A net 20 percent increase would mean that under Ducey's plan, average teacher salaries would increase from $48,372 in 2017 to $58,130 by the 2020 school year.

That annual compensation would make Arizona's average teacher salaries more competitive with neighboring states like Colorado and New Mexico. But even if other states froze teacher pay, Arizona's salary under Ducey's proposal would still fall below the national average of $61,370, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ducey said on Thursday that he wants the Legislature to examine his plan in the next few days. The 2018 legislative session is scheduled to end April 17.

"The budget process is coming to a close," Ducey said. "And I hope everyone had a good spring break, because it’s going to be a long weekend, and we’re going to be working through the weekend."
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty